Sheldons find a new stream of income
The Sheldons had already acquired great wealth through sheep farming and weaving when Ralph Sheldon, quite late in life, acquired land at Cole Orton in Leicestershire in around 1533, possibly at the behest of his eldest son William, who benefited from the rental income.
Thus began an association with the village that would last for some 200 years.
Ralph and his son were quick to see the potential for coal, quite far-sighted in the time of Henry VIII since it did not become generally available as a fuel for the home until the reign of Charles I some 80 years later.
Ralph Sheldon lived at Abberton for the greater part of his life and died there in 1546. He married a Warwickshire co-heiress, Philippa, daughter of Baldwin Heath, of Fordhall, Wootton Wawen, who survived him by some two years.
Ralph had built on the acquisitions and property holdings bequeathed to him by his older brother, William, and had accumulated great wealth by the time he made his last will on 28 March 1545, with a property portfolio over widely scatter parts of the Midlands, including holdings in Leicestershire, Shropshire and Gloucestershire, as well as those in his home locale of Worcestershire and Warwickshire.
In addition to Abberton and Beoley, he also invested in Broadway in the south of Worcestershire, taking a lease in 1509, and also became one of the main tenants of the Abbey at Pershore.
The will includes reference to coal and coal mining. The will reads: “I do will and geve to William Sheldon my sonne all suche Colles as be gotten at Colle Orton (Leicestershire).”
William, in his own will made some five years later, also made reference to the subject, saying: “Whereas I have compounded with Mr Winter and the Earl of Huntingdon to make a sough or drain in Cole Orton to get coals therefrom, my executors are to continue making the same as the coal will be beneficial to my heirs and a great commodity to a great number of the Queen’s Majesty’s (Elizabeth I) subjects to have the said coals at reasonable prices for their fuel, my son, Ralph, to have the issues of my Manor of Cole Orton and of the said Coal mine, in taile maile, with contingent remainders.”
It was the beginning of a long and productive Sheldon connection with mining and Coleorton that lasted over 200 years, a chain finally broken in 1730 when another William Sheldon sold the manor of Overton Saucey, where the mines were located, to Richard Parrot and John Metcalfe for £3,400, the equivalent of over £600,000 (nearly $1,000,000) in today’s values
William Sheldon, thought to have been born in 1500, though there is no record of the actual date, will later become one of the greatest, and wealthiest, of the Sheldons of Beoley and Weston, indeed of all the Sheldons.
Ralph takes advantage of Abbey’s plight
Many of Ralph Sheldon’s dealings in property and land involved Pershore Abbey and it appears that Ralph had a somewhat tempestuous relationship with the Abbot.
As the 16th century advanced, so the financial troubles of a large number of monasteries increased and this state of affairs proved to be a gilt-edged opportunity for wealthy laymen such as Ralph Sheldon, who had a ready supply of money to lend.
After Henry VIII began the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, Pershore Abbey was among those facing financial difficulties. Ralph Sheldon entered into numerous transactions with the last Abbot, John Stonywell, and the two developed something of a love-hate relationship in their dealings.
The Abbot – who had not even been able to pay a debt owing to Sheldon for eleven steers, and for capons, butter, milk and cream purchased when he was installed Abbot – was in the unhappy position of having to raise money, and Sheldon was never an easy man to deal with.
Much could be written about the transactions between the two men since there are many documents in existence. Initially, their dealings were somewhat testy but in time they became more amiable, due more to the Abbot’s difficulties rather than Sheldon’s benevolence.
Trouble came calling on the two in April 1538, when information revealed to the newly-appointed Lord Privy Seal, Thomas, Lord Cromwell, from a William Harrison, a supposed groom of the King’s Privy Chamber but actually one of Cromwell’s spy, of words spoken by the Abbot while seated at his own table upon the Feast of the Annunciation a few weeks before, and alleged to be treasonable.
It was claimed that the Abbot had, in conversation with Ralph Sheldon at dinner, spoken about the suppression of the Abbey of Lantony.
Sheldon was alleged to have said: “O good Lord Council gift hath God given unto the King and his noble with we have perceive the usurpation of the Church wherewith we have long been deluded and mocked and in especial in the usurpation of the Church of Rome.”
“Ah,” said the Abbot, “be you come thereto and I have loved you so well, and taken you for so true a man and so substantial a man. Well, well, I will love you no more; but whatsoever you say, I wot what you think.”
“Forsoth,” said Sheldon, “my Lord, I think they be even as they prove by their works."
Then the Abbot, inclining himself over the table, said: "I trust and I pray God that I may dye one of the chylderne of Rome”, and so setting himself up again he said further: “I will prove that he is accursed that withstondyth a power.”
The argument went on, no doubt fuelled by flowing libation, the Abbot quoting Latin, to which Sheldon replied that he understood no Latin.
According to the spy Harrison, the Abbott was obdurate, and then the subject changed to the mining of coals, possibly relating to Sheldon’s ambition to develop his mining interests in Abbey lands that fell within the area that eventually became known as the Warwickshire Coalfield.
Again the differences between the Abbot and Sheldon would seem to have been healed, for in June 1539 Sheldon is found acting as arbitrator between some tenants of the Abbey and the Abbot. In this year, significantly, the leases for 80 years each of the manors of Abberton and Broadway were granted by the Abbot and Convent of Pershore to Sheldon.
With these and other things in mind Barnard records that it is interesting to note that Sheldon, in his will, recognised “Oure souveraigne Lord Henry the eight by the Grace of God, Kinge of Englande, Fraunce and Irelande" as Defender of the Faith,” and in the Church of Inglonde and also of Irelande in erth the Supreme Head.”
He bequeaths his “soull to Almightie God and our Lady Saint Mary”, and directs that “every priest that shall be at my dirige and masse to have xijd (12 pennies). And to every Clerk that can singe to have iiijd (4 pennies). And to other that cannot singe ijd (2 pennies).”
Ralph moves to secure the future of his sons
Ralph’s property acquisitions enabled him to secure the futures of his sons while at the same time establishing new branches of the Sheldon family elsewhere.
His second son, Baldwin founded the Broadway line of the family; Thomas was seated at Childswickham (then in the county of Gloucestershire but now part of Worcestershire). Another brother, Francis, inherited the Abberton estate.
According to the inscription on Ralph Sheldon’s tomb, also in Beoley church, there were 11 children in all, many of whom are not named but in the intervening years we have discovered the names of ten of them.
We know of daughters Mary, Joyce, Elizabeth, Isabel and Alice, and sons William, Baldwin, Thomas, Francis and Henry. It seems likely that the 11th child did not survive beyond childhood
Ralph’s will is lengthy and detailed. To view it in detail, go to Ralph’s will in detail. Philippa survived Ralph by just two years and she likewise left a very detailed will, see Philippa Sheldon’s will.
Philippa survived him for some two years. Probate of her undated and interesting will – in the course of which she leaves to William, her son, “a bason and a ewer of sylver and xiij spones with the picture of posceles whereof one ys doble gilte – being granted on 30 January, 1548-9.
For a more detailed look at the Sheldons’ 200-year involvement in coal mining in Coleorton, see The Complexities of Leicestershire mining.
All posts in this category
- Born to a golden age but dogged by ill fortune
- The Mystery of the Missing Passport
- The Sheldon Tapestries
- Sheldon fortunes take a downwards turn
- A life blighted by the march of religious change
- The complexities of Leicestershire mining
- William Sheldon (1500-1575) Part Two
- Philippa’s will that of a wealthy woman
- The details of Ralph Sheldon’s will
- Ralph Sheldon (1468-1546) the first coal king